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[Detail] Training School for Wives and Mothers, Baton Gouge, La. 1888.

Collection Overview

The Church in the Southern Black Community, 1780 - 1925, documents the growth of the "Black Church" in the American South and how evangelical Christianity was modified by the African-American community to encourage dreams of freedom, the importance of community, and the desire for personal survival. Included are materials that document the conflicts in the church caused by slavery. Also of interest are some slave narratives that document the role of the church in slave communities. The collection was compiled from printed texts from the libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Historical Eras

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  • The New Nation, 1780-1815
  • Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915

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The Church in the Southern Black Community, 1780-1925, documents the important role of religion in a study of African American history. Churches supported the free black community, helped ameliorate the effects of slavery, and became an instrument bent on the destruction of the “peculiar institution” throughout the pre-Civil War era. Religious communities played an important role during Reconstruction and were in the forefront in challenging Jim Crow.

The Church in the Southern Black Community is a collection of 100 documents, primarily books, pamphlets, journal articles, and slave narratives from the Academic Affairs Library of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Many of the books in the collection were written by ministers who chronicled the history of the African Methodist Episcopal and Baptist churches in the South, usually with biographical sketches of leading church members and itinerant preachers. Sources also deal with mission work in Africa. The collection also includes early twentieth-century assessments by black scholars on the important role of African American religious communities in American history and society.

The collection provides an opportunity to examine social and political history through documents relating to the influence of African American religious communities in the late eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries. The documents assist in exploring several epochs in United States history from the Revolutionary era through the emergence of modern America in the early twentieth century. A Special Presentation, “An Introduction to the Church in the Southern Black Community,” provides a brief overview of the influence of the church across these periods.

Black Americans and the Church in Colonial America

The history of black Americans and the church begins in the colonial period. Carter G. Woodson, the noted African American historian and founder of the Journal of Negro History, traced the influence of the church in the black community from those early years through the beginning of the twentieth century in his classic study, The History of the Negro Church.

Religious Instruction of the Negroes in the United States, by Charles Jones, a Georgia slave owner and Presbyterian minister provides another perspective. Jones wrote the book as an appeal to white ministers and slave owners to provide for religious instruction for slaves and free blacks.  The book includes a historical summary of slavery in British colonial America, beginning with the arrival of Africans in 1620.   

Read the introductory material and Chapter I in each of these two books and consider the following questions:

  • What reasons do the two authors give for why African Americans were not a major target for missionaries and/or religious instruction in the colonial era? On what points do the two authors agree? What disagreements do you note?
  • What was the relationship between religion and education for African Americans in colonial America? Why was this relationship significant?
  • How are the two books different in tone? What factors (e.g., race of the author, when the book was written, author’s professional training and purpose) might account for the differences in tone and argumentation? How does the tone affect your reading of the text?
  • What difficulties in writing their books do the two authors note? What insights into the limitations of historical narratives do these comments provide?

In 1890, Edward Johnson, a prominent African American politician and business leader, was keenly aware of certain limitations in available histories.  Johnson set forth his purpose in writing A School History of the Negro Race in America, 1619 to 1890, in the Preface:

. . . I have often observed the sin of omission and commission on the part of white authors, most of whom seem to have written exclusively for white children, and studiously left out the many creditable deeds of the Negro. . . . The Negro is hardly given a passing notice in many of the histories taught in the schools; he is credited with no heritage of valor; he is mentioned only as a slave, while true historical records prove him to have been among the most patriotic of patriots, among the bravest of soldiers, and constantly a God-fearing, faithful producer of the nation's wealth.

From A School History of the Negro Race in America, 1619-1890, pages 3-4

Read Johnson’s account of African Americans in colonial America. How did his perspective shape the narrative he wrote?  Do you think the book would have achieved the purpose of inspiring in African American students of the late nineteenth century “a new self-respect and confidence”?  Do you think this is a legitimate reason for students to learn about history? Why or why not?

Early Anti-Slavery Efforts by Religious Communities

Opposition to slavery in some religious communities began in the colonial era. Carter Woodson mentioned the Quakers and an early anti-slavery leader, John Woolman. More can be learned about this member of the Society of Friends by reading “John Woolman’s Efforts in Behalf of Freedom” by David Houston (Journal of Negro History, April 1917).  The article explores Woolman’s early efforts to influence the Quakers to forbid their members to own slaves.  Although the article focuses on Woolman’s efforts, it also introduces readers to the work of two other colonial abolitionists, Benjamin Lay and Anthony Benezet. 

  • What, according to this article, was the reason that Quakers resisted early efforts to ban slaveholding in their community?
  • What experiences stimulated Woolman’s anti-slavery efforts?
  • How successful were the efforts of John Woolman to convince the Society of Friends to prohibit Quakers from owning slaves or participating in the slave trade? Would you, like author David Houston, classify Woolman as a success? Why or why not?
  • How did Woolman’s efforts differ from those of Benjamin Lay? Explain which approach you think was more likely to be effective. Can you think of another example from U.S. history of two advocates for change who took differing approaches?

John Wesley, the English evangelist and co-founder of Methodism, traveled to British colonial America in the early part of the eighteenth century.  After his return to England, he published a tract Thoughts upon Slavery, in which he condemned the African slave trade and slavery and refuted the notion that slavery rescued Africans from barbarism, an often-used justification for slavery.  Although some Methodists took Wesley’s message to heart, many ministers and congregations in the Southern colonies did not heed it.  In documenting the experience of enslaved people from Africa, Wesley briefly described the Middle Passage,

. . . It is common for several hundreds of them to be put on board one vessel; where they are stowed together in as little room, as it is possible for them to be crowded. It is easy to suppose what a condition they must soon be in, between heat, thirst, and stench of various kinds. So that it is no wonder, so many should die in the passage; but rather, that any survive it.”

From Thoughts upon Slavery, pages 21-22

John Dixon Long in Pictures of Slavery in Church and State included John Wesley’s “Testimony Against Slavery” as an appendix.

If, therefore, you have any regard to justice, (to say nothing of mercy, nor the revealed law of God,) render unto all their due. Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is, to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary choice. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion! Be gentle toward all men; and see that you invariably do unto every one as you would he should do unto you.

From “Testimony Against Slavery,” from Pictures of Slavery in Church and State, pages 406-407

Read the “Testimony Against Slavery” and all or parts of Thoughts upon Slavery.

  • What arguments does Wesley make against slavery? Which do you find most compelling? How does he draw upon his religious beliefs in making the case against slavery?
  • In introducing “Testimony Against Slavery,” John Dixon Long wrote of Powell, “The energy, the eloquence, and the earnestness with which, almost single-handed, he combated an institution recognized by the public sentiment of Christendom are an additional proof of the daring moral courage which characterized him as a Christian and as a man.” Do you agree with this description of Wesley? To what other figures in the early fight against slavery might the description apply?

Methodists and Quakers were not the only churches whose early members included abolitionists. Among the small Baptist communities established in New England in the early colonial period, some, such as the Freewill Baptists of New Durham, New Hampshire, strongly favored abolition of slavery.  An Outline of Baptist History provides some background on Baptist communities in colonial America.  By 1760, Baptists had reached out to the poor, preaching a gospel of equality.  In the South a number of slaves were attracted by Baptist beliefs.  Because of restrictions on the assembly and movement of slaves, religious services were often clandestine and took the form of early morning sunrise prayer services. 

The American Revolution

In his book designed for use in schools, Edward A. Johnson devoted two chapters to the role of African Americans in the American Revolution. Read Chapters XI and XII of A School History of the Negro Race in America, 1619-1890, and consider the following questions:

  • Why did some African Americans join the British forces? Do you think it was a good decision? Why or why not?
  • Explain the plan for African American troops that was put forth by Alexander Hamilton and Colonel Laurens. Why, according to George Washington, did the plan fail? Do you agree with his statement “It is not the public but private interest which influences the generality of mankind”? Give examples from U.S. history to support your answer.
  • List the African Americans whose contributions to the war effort Johnson described. Use the list to write a paragraph summarizing the African American contribution to the American Revolution.
  • Johnson recounts several anecdotes about George Washington. How do these stories inform your views of Washington? What, if any, new insights into his character do you gain?

The Growth of African Methodist Episcopal and Baptist Churches in the New Nation

Following the American Revolution, free blacks in Philadelphia and large urban centers of the North joined white Methodist and Baptist congregations. As African American membership in these churches grew, they became increasingly segregated. Poor treatment in white churches ultimately led to withdrawal from these parishes and the establishment of new black religious congregations.

The Reverend Richard Allen, a former slave and itinerant preacher, broke away from St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia and established Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1787. Allen explained the reason for breaking away from St. George’s Church:

. . . In November, 1787, the coloured people belonging to the Methodist Society in Philadelphia, convened together, in order to take into consideration the evils under which they laboured, arising from the unkind treatment of their white brethren, who considered them a nuisance in the house of worship, and even pulled them off their knees while in the act of prayer, and ordered them to the back seats. From these, and various other acts of unchristian conduct, we considered it our duty to devise a plan in order to build a house of our own. . .

From The Doctrines and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church , page 3

Read selections from The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen. Allen wrote about the experiences encountered in forming the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the help he received from Reverend Absalom Jones, the first ordained African American priest in the Episcopal Church. Faced with prejudice within white churches in the urban North, other African Americans followed Allen’s example and created their own religious communities. Within a short period of time, the African Methodist Episcopal Church had spread to the upper South.

Meanwhile, the number of black Baptists was also growing. The first black Baptist church in the South was founded in the 1770s. E. K. Love’s History of the First African Baptist Church chronicles the establishment of Savannah, Georgia’s African American Baptist congregation in 1788:

The First African Baptist Church has had a most eventful and checkered career. She has endured indescribable suffering and has been wonderfully blessed and preserved by a hand divine. The first pastor, Rev. Andrew Bryan, was whipped until his blood dripped freely upon the ground, for no other crime than that he preached Jesus and him crucified to the poor negroes; but he continued to preach Jesus, and God continued to bless his humble preaching to Africa's sable sons and daughters. The more this church was persecuted the more she grew and thrived.

From History of the First African Baptist Church, Preface, page iii

“The Evolution of the Negro Baptist Church,” an article in the Journal of Negro History (January 1922) by Walter Brooks, describes the transition among the Baptists from mixed congregations to separate black and white churches that resulted from tensions created by slavery in the South. Conduct a Keyword Search using Baptist church as your search term or use the Subject Index to locate historical accounts of individual Baptist churches throughout the South.

  • Why do you think the Methodists and Baptists were successful in making missionary inroads among free and enslaved blacks?
  • What contradictions do you see between the professed beliefs of white Baptists and Methodists and their behavior toward black members of their churches?
  • Based on the accounts you have read, what were the advantages of forming a separate church for African Americans? What were the disadvantages? Overall, do you think the decision to break from the white churches was a good one? How might churches today be different if this split had not occurred?

Responses to Slavery in the New Nation

Some religious leaders continued to work against slavery in the period following the founding of the United States. Consider, for example, George Bourne, born in England in 1780. Bourne settled in Baltimore, Maryland, when he was 24.  He later moved to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and became pastor of a Presbyterian church.  Bourne deplored slavery.  Because of his vocal opposition to the institution, he was expelled from his church and moved north.  He published A Condensed Anti-Slavery Bible Argument; by a Citizen of Virginia   in 1845. In the book’s first chapter, he attacked the institution as cruel and ungodly:

… MEN, bartered, leased, mortgaged, bequeathed, invoiced, shipped in cargoes, stored as goods, taken on executions, and knocked off at public outcry! Their rights, another's conveniences; their interests, wares on sale; their happiness, a household utensil; their personal inalienable ownership, a serviceable article or a plaything, as best suits the humor of the hour; their deathless nature, conscience, social affections, sympathies, hopes--marketable commodities! We repeat it, "THE REDUCTION OF PERSONS TO THINGS!" Not robbing a man of privileges, but of himself; not loading him with burdens, but making him a beast of burden; not restraining liberty, but subverting it; not curtailing rights, but abolishing them; not inflicting personal cruelty, but annihilating personality; not exacting involuntary labor, but sinking man into an implement of labor; not abridging human comforts, but abrogating human nature; not depriving an animal of immunities, but despoiling a rational being of attributes, uncreating A MAN to make room for a thing!

From A Condensed Anti-Slavery Bible Argument by a Citizen of Virginia, page 8

According to Bourne, how did slavery subvert liberty?
What inferences can be drawn from Bourne’s expulsion from the Presbyterian Church?

Use the Subject Index to find material about abolitionists. You might also read the chapter “Efforts for Freedom” in Edward A. Johnson’s A School History of the Negro Race in America, 1619-1890. What motivated white and black abolitionists to work for freedom for enslaved people?  How might the life stories of people like Reverend Josiah Henson and Reverend J.W. Loguen have motivated people to work for an end to slavery?

Abolition was not the only response to slavery in the United States’ early years as a nation. Another response was a call for colonization of former slaves in Africa. Read “The Formation of the American Colonization Society” by Henry Sherwood from the Journal of Negro History (July 1917). Sherwood traces the origins of the Colonization Society to spasmodic movements as early as 1714 through the attempts by states to lobby for a national organization to transport freed slaves to unsettled areas of the West or repatriation to West Africa.

  • What were the motives behind the removal of free Blacks from the United States?
  • Why did some anti-slavery organizations support colonization?
  • What role did Paul Cuffe play in the establishment of a colony in Sierra Leone?
  • What were the religious motives of Christian “deportationists”?

The American Colonization Society, officially formed in 1817, petitioned Congress for funds to support the establishment of a colony in West Africa.  In 1822 the colony of Liberia was established.  In addition to some federal funds, money for support of the colony came from some state legislatures, private bequests, and from religious communities.

Jehudi Ashmun

Jehudi Ashmun, from “Sketch of the Life of Rev. Lott Cary,” frontispiece. Who was Jehudi Ashmun? What was his role in the American Colonization Society?

Lott Cary, a former slave and celebrated Baptist minister in Richmond, used his influence to encourage the development of missionary work in Africa.  He sailed for Sierra Leone in 1821, becoming the first American Baptist missionary in Africa. Read “Sketch of the Life of Rev. Lott Cary.”

  • What was Cary’s goal in Africa? What challenges did he face in the course of his work there?
  • Describe the circumstances surrounding Cary’s death. What do these circumstances suggest about the difficulty of the colonization effort?

African Americans did not universally support colonization. Richard Allen, founder of the AME church and one of the most respected leaders of the free Black community in Philadelphia, opposed the attempt to establish a colony in West Africa. Conduct research to learn more about the arguments against colonization. List the pros and cons of colonization.Explain which list you find more compelling.

Did the effort to resettle in Africa continue after emancipation? Find at least two sources in the collection that provide insight on this question.

The collection also includes materials on another response to slavery—active rebellion. In 1822 Denmark Vesey, a free black who had agonized over the oppressiveness of slavery and the national debate over the Missouri Compromise, organized an uprising to take place on a Sunday night in July when many of the whites would be away from Charleston, South Carolina. Vesey was keenly aware of the declarations of the American and French Revolutions based on natural and inalienable rights. 

Vesey’s plot was discovered in June when a slave turned informer.  James Hamilton, Jr., Mayor of Charleston, won fame for foiling the plot and wrote Negro Plot:  An Account of the Late Intended Insurrection Among a Portion of the Blacks of the City of Charleston, South Carolina,  describing the events leading to the planned revolt.  Hamilton served in the South Carolina legislature and later became governor of the state, where he was a leading force in the Nullification Crisis.

Some years later, Archibald Grimké, an African American lawyer and diplomat, wrote an account of the Vesey uprising from an altogether different perspective.  Right on the Scaffold, or the Martyrs of 1822 was published by the American Negro Academy in 1901.  Grimké wrote a detailed account of the events leading to the insurrection and the resulting trials and executions. 

It [the insurrection] contains a lesson and a warning which a fool need not err in reading and understanding.  Oppression is a powder magazine exposed always to the danger of explosion from spontaneous combustion. . . .

It is verily no light thing for the Negroes of the United States to have produced such a man, such a hero and martyr. It is certainly no light heritage, the knowledge that his brave blood flows in their veins. For history does not record, that any other of its long and shining line of heroes and martyrs, ever met death, anywhere on this globe, in a holier cause or a sublimer mood, than did this Spartan-like slave, more than three quarters of a century ago.

From Right on the Scaffold, or the Martyrs of 1822, pages 22, 24

  • How do the two accounts of the Vesey Uprising differ?
  • What accounts for the celebratory nature of Hamilton’s account?
  • Why do you think this account increased Hamilton’s influence in South Carolina politics?
  • According to Grimké, what were the underlying causes for the insurrection?
  • Why do you think he referred to the insurgents as “Martyrs of 1822”?

Nat Turner, an enslaved preacher in Southampton Country, Virginia, was convinced that he was God’s chosen instrument to free slaves from bondage.  Relying on divine intervention rather than enlisting a large force to achieve his goal, in August 1831 he and a few followers launched their rebellion.  As Turner marched through the countryside, his numbers swelled.  Some 55 white Virginians were seized and put to death during the short-lived rebellion.  Turner escaped capture for six weeks.  Upon capture, he was jailed.  His court-appointed attorney, Thomas Gray, published what he attested was Turner’s actual confession shortly after his arrest.  However, doubt exists whether “The Confessions of Nat Turner” is accurate.  Within two weeks after capture, Turner and accused co-conspirators were executed.  Several Southern states called special sessions of their legislatures to strengthen their slave codes, the laws that regulated slavery.

Why do you think the Nat Turner Rebellion stirred such concern among whites throughout the South?

The Civil War

Fort Wagner

Fort Wagner, from A School History of the Negro Race in America, 1619-1890, page 114. Read the account of the Civil War in this book. How does it differ from other accounts of the Civil War that you have read in textbooks?

A number of the autobiographies in the collection include references to the Civil War. One example is the History of the Life of Rev. Wm. Mack Lee:  Body Servant of General Robert E. Lee through the Civil War. William Mack Lee, a cook in the service of Robert E. Lee, had nothing but praise for the general.

Contrast Lee’s account with that of the Rev. William Robinson.  In his life story, From Log Cabin to the Pulpit, or, fifteen years in Slavery, Robinson recounted being taken off to war as a servant to a Confederate officer.

  • How do these accounts by two African American ministers differ?
  • To what extent does the Rev. Lee’s autobiography romanticize the institution of slavery?
  • Both books were written long after the Civil War. What might account for the different stories told by the two authors?

In his history of the black church, Carter G. Woodson wrote that “The outbreak of the Civil War was also an outbreak in the church.” Many ministers went off to war, and less attention may have been paid to spiritual matters than to gaining freedom. Furthermore, the war split northerners and southerners of the same denomination, both of whom used scripture to argue their cause.

Churches in the Black Community Following the Civil War

The challenge facing churches—both black and white—following the Civil War is well described by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp in her essay introducing the collection:

Emancipation from slavery in 1863 posed distinctive religious challenges for African Americans in the South. When the Civil War finally brought freedom to previously enslaved peoples, the task of organizing religious communities was only one element of the larger need to create new lives--to reunite families, to find jobs, and to figure out what it would mean to live in the United States as citizens rather than property . . .

A long history of antislavery and political activity among Northern black Protestants had convinced them that they could play a major role in the adjustment of the four million freed slaves to American life. In a massive missionary effort, Northern black leaders such as Daniel A. Payne and Theophilus Gould Steward established missions to their Southern counterparts, resulting in the dynamic growth of independent black churches in the Southern states between 1865 and 1900.

From “An Introduction to the Church in the Southern Black Community, page 2

After the Civil War, the separation of black and white churches continued; a new group, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America, was formed in the South as a result of this division.  The Baptist church continued to increase its African American membership. According to Carter G. Woodson

The freedom, which even prior to emancipation meant so much in the growth of the Baptists, was thereafter a still greater cause for their expansion. It was easier than ever for a man to become a prominent figure in the Baptist Church. While the Methodists were hesitating as to what recognition should be allowed the Negroes or whether they should be set apart as a separate body, the Negro Baptists were realizing upon their new freedom which made possible the enjoyment of greater democracy in the church. Every man was to be equal to every other man and no power without had authority to interfere.

From The History of the Negro Church, pages 196-197

Read more of Woodson’s description of the black church following the Civil War. Also read Chapter I of A Plain Account of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America, by F.M. Hamilton. Read Chapters II and III of Once a Methodist; Now a Baptist. Why? by Eugene J. Carter.

  • List as many causes of the splits among various denominations as you can identify. On the basis of what you have learned about these causes, describe briefly how events in different spheres, such as the economic, political, or religious, influence each other.
  • What reasons does Carter give for becoming a Baptist after many years as a Methodist? Are his views in line with Woodson’s analysis quoted above? Why or why not?

Churches, both Northern and Southern, black and white, sought to help the freedmen by sending missionaries, establishing schools and seminaries, and providing for basic needs of the people. A number of titles in the collection recount this work. Read, for example, from Methodist Adventures in Negro Education   or In Christ’s Stead: Autobiographical Sketches.

  • Who are the authors of these two works? To what denominations did they belong? What race was each?
  • What kinds of work do they describe? Do you think this work was important in the post-Civil War South? Why or why not?
  • What evidence of prejudice or condescension can you find in these works? List phrases or sentences that give you clues as to negative views towards African Americans, even from individuals trying to help the freedmen. What might have been the effects of these attitudes?

Black churches in the post-Civil War era were also engaged in missionary work, particularly in Africa. Read one of the following documents to learn more about these missionaries:

What were the goals of African American missionaries in Africa? How did they finance their work? What attitudes towards Africans are apparent in their writing?

The Federal Government’s Role

Through the Freedmen’s Bureau, the federal government also supported efforts to help the former slaves during Reconstruction. Mary Ames describes the experiences she and a colleague, Emily Bliss, encountered as teachers on Edisto Island, South Carolina, during Reconstruction in From a New England Woman's Diary in Dixie in 1865.  The work describes the poor living conditions, lack of food, water, and other necessities of life.  Their school enrolled more than 100 students, both children and adults.  When the Freedmen’s Bureau withdrew support for their school, the two women returned to Massachusetts.  Research the Freedmen’s Bureau, political opposition to its establishment, and the difficulty it faced during Reconstruction. How successful was the Freedmen’s Bureau? W.E.B. Du Bois, an author represented in this collection, wrote an essay on the Freedmen’s Bureau that is readily available online. What was his assessment of its success?

The federal government also passed legislation to advance the cause of the former slaves. Amendments XIII, XIV, and XV of the Constitution were intended to deal with the effects of slavery, as were a number of acts of Congress. The Civil Rights Act of 1875, one such law, made it illegal to discriminate on the base of race or color in public accommodations and facilities. The Supreme Court declared this Act unconstitutional in 1883.

Examine The Barbarous Decision of the United States Supreme Court Declaring the Civil Rights Act Unconstitutional by Henry McNeal Turner, a civil rights activist and bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  The work includes the Court decision in the case, along with accounts of speeches by Frederick Douglass and Colonel R.G. Ingersoll in opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision. Turner published the pamphlet in 1893, three years before the Supreme Court issued its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.

  • Why did Henry McNeal Turner feel it was necessary to put together this book? Why does he call the Court’s decision “barbarous”?
  • On what grounds did the Supreme Court strike down the Civil Rights Act of 1875? Why did Justice Harlan dissent from the decision?
  • How did the Court’s decision give credence to the so-called “Jim Crow” laws?  Would Plessy v. Ferguson have been moot if the Civil Rights Act of 1875 had still been in effect?

African Americans at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century

In 1897, prompted by news reports of countless lynchings in the United States, P. Thomas Stanford published a book entitled The Tragedy of the Negro in America:  A Condensed History of the Enslavement, Sufferings, Emancipation, Present Condition and Progress of the Negro Race in the United States of America. The author, who was born a slave in Virginia,  served the Stanford family in Boston for a time before running away to New York.  While in New York, he became a Christian and received an education “through the kindness of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Rev. Henry Highland Garnett, and the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher,” three luminaries in the abolitionist crusade in American history.

Chapter VIII of the text, “Lynchings,” begins with a sketch of the lynching of four members of the Waggoner family of Tennessee in 1893. Stanford writes:

In fifteen years and three months 1,697 Negroes have been lynched in defiance of statute law and in the very presence of legal officials, which is a fact so horrible that one is tempted to believe it is not to be surpassed, perhaps not equalled, in brutal wickedness even in Darkest Africa. President, Senators, Congressmen, Governors of States, and Mayors of Cities--each and all of them know that this diabolical work has been done, and is continued until now, and that the murderers go unpunished, but seem to be incapable of stopping it. Power and authority appear to be vested in nobody to command Governors of States to arrest and punish the fiends who so openly abrogate the Constitution, and, to tell plain truth, not many governors seem to take much notice of the murders which are done almost beneath the windows of their homes. 

From The Tragedy of the Negro in America, pages 138-139

The American Negro: What He Was, What He Is, and What He May Become by William H. Thomas was a controversial review of African American history published in 1901. Thomas was a northerner of mixed race who had served in the Union Army and gone South following the Civil War to teach; he also served in the South Carolina legislature. Thomas began his work with a general survey of American slavery and failed government policy during Reconstruction. However, the principal focus of his book was a vitriolic criticism of African American society at the dawn of the twentieth century.  Thomas viciously attacked virtually all aspects of African American life, including black ministers.

  • Read about lynching in both Thomas’s and Stanford’s books. How do the two perceive lynching?
  • Although both authors deplore lynching, they differ in their appraisals of the cause of mob violence. Whose appraisal do you think is more valid? What evidence convinces you?
  • Efforts to secure the passage of an anti-lynching law in the United States failed. What factors account for the failure of the United States to pass an anti-lynch law?

The Negro in the South, His Economic Progress in Relation to His Moral and Religious Development is a collection of four lectures given at the Philadelphia Divinity School in 1907 by Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois.  Washington focused on economic development of African Americans in the South and asserted that former slaves needed to recognize that labor is noble. Du Bois, on the other hand, argued that the South would never be able to compete with the rest of the world until African Americans were fully integrated into its political life.  Du Bois criticized white Christians who forced blacks out of their congregations and denied them the means to establish churches of their own.

  • How do these lectures dramatize the differences in these two prominent leaders’ approaches to race relations?
  • What points did Washington argue particularly convincingly? What points made by Du Bois were especially strong?


Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking: Continuity and Change in the Lives of African American Women

In a 1919 book, Benjamin Griffith Brawley profiled five Women of Achievement.  Examining these profiles can help illustrate both continuity and change in the lives of African American women of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Read these five profiles in preparation for this analysis.

Prepare a piece of paper as shown below. Above the timeline, show the birth and death (if they were dead at the time Brawley wrote his book) dates of the five women of achievement. Below the timeline, record important events in U.S. history that may have influenced the women’s lives.

Under “Important Events” note important events in each woman’s life (e.g., escaped from slavery, went to Africa, established a school for girls). In the “Important Values/Beliefs/Traits” column, write important beliefs or traits that each woman had (e.g., Christian faith, belief in education, hard-working).

1812 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1918
  Important Events Important Values/Beliefs/Traits
Harriet Tubman    
Nora Gordon    
Meta Warrick Fuller    
Mary McLeod Bethune    
Mary Church Terrell    

Compare your entries for the five women. What evidence do you see of continuity in the lives of these extraordinary women? For example, what beliefs or values did all or most of them share? Did all or most of them have some similar experiences? What evidence do you see of change in the lives of these women? For example, did slavery and its aftermath affect the women differently as time passed?  How are the changes in these women’s lives related to the events in U.S. history that you put on the timeline? 

Remember that these five women were individuals of great achievement. Do you think the examples of continuity and change would apply to “everyday” African American women of the time? Why or why not?

Historical Comprehension: Interpreting Graphics

Joanna Moore was a white woman from Pennsylvania who spent many years working with African Americans in the South. In 1902, she published her life story, In Christ’s Stead. Below is a graph from her book.

  • What does this graph show? What does each square stand for? Which two groups have the most people according to this graph? What is the source of the graph?
  • Summarize what the graph shows in one or two sentences. How effectively does the graph convey this idea?
  • What major world religions are not shown on the graph? Why do you think they are not shown? Does the information in the graph raise any other questions in your mind?
  • Why do you think Moore included this graph in her autobiography? Read the chapter in which the graph appears to see if you can answer this question more fully. How does understanding an author’s motivation influence your analysis of graphics?

Examine the second graph that Moore includes in her book; this graph shows “Annual Expenditures in the U.S.” Conduct a similar analysis to the one outlined above.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Comparing Views on Slavery and the Bible

People with different views interpret documents and events in very different ways. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the use of the Bible to both justify and condemn the institution of slavery.  Read excerpts from Thornton Stringfellow’s Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery  and contrast it with “Perversion of the Scriptures,” Chapter III of George Bourne’s A Condensed Anti-Slavery Bible Argument

  • How do the authors use the same scriptural passages to support their different viewpoints?
  • What do these tracts reveal about the authors’ values, outlook, and motives?
  • What insights about how people’s views affect their interpretation of documents or events did you gain from this exercise? Can you think of another document that is interpreted differently by people with divergent views? Why is it important in studying history to consider multiple perspectives?

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Formulating Questions About the Church in the African American Community

Historians begin their work with questions for investigation. In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois devotes Chapter X, “Of the Faith of the Fathers,” to religion in the African American community. After describing a Southern revival meeting, Du Bois identified the questions about the religious life of African Americans that he found “attractive”: 

These were the characteristics of Negro religious life as developed up to the time of Emancipation. Since under the peculiar circumstances of the black man's environment they were the one expression of his higher life, they are of deep interest to the student of his development, both socially and psychologically. Numerous are the attractive lines of inquiry that here group themselves. What did slavery mean to the African savage? What was his attitude toward the World and Life? What seemed to him good and evil,--God and Devil? Whither went his longings and strivings, and wherefore were his heart-burnings and disappointments? Answers to such questions can come only from a study of Negro religion as a development, through its gradual changes from the heathenism of the Gold Coast to the institutional Negro church of Chicago.

From Chapter X, “Of the Faith of the Fathers,” The Souls of Black Folk, page 192

Read Chapter X of The Souls of Black Folk. Did Du Bois answer the questions he laid out in the paragraph above?  How does knowing at the beginning of a historical account what questions the writer is addressing help you in reading the account? What might be the implications for writers of history?  For your own research and writing?

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Examining Causes of Historical Actions

Read Benjamin Brawley’s article from The Journal of Negro History (July 1916) on Lorenzo Dow, a white itinerant Methodist minister who traveled south in the early nineteenth century, seeking converts and preaching against slavery. Dow caused such uproar that he was barred from the Methodist church. Brawley concluded the article remarking,

Here at least was a man with a mission--that mission to carry the gospel of Christ to the uttermost parts of the earth. He knew no standard but that of duty; he heeded no command but that of his own soul. Rude, and sharp of speech he was, and only half educated; but he was made of the stuff of heroes; and neither hunger, nor cold, nor powers, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, could daunt him in his task. After the lapse of a hundred years he looms larger, not smaller, in the history of our Southland; and as of old we seem to hear again “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

From “Lorenzo Dow,” page 275

  • How did Lorenzo Dow put his beliefs into practice?
  • What beliefs and experiences contributed to Dow’s opposition to slavery?
  • How did Dow’s views differ from those of the established Methodist Church? To what extent would you say these differences were the cause of the Church’s banning of Dow? What other causes contributed to the Church’s decision?
  • How successful was Dow in achieving his goals? Knowing the outcome, how do you regard his efforts?
  • Think about other individuals who were moved to action by their beliefs. How important do you think such individuals are in history?

Historical Research: The Views of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney

Read Appendix III in Rev. John Dixon Long’s Pictures of Slavery in Church and State. To what decision by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney  does Long refer? Identify the case and read the decision. How did Taney’s decision in that case differ from the views he expressed as an attorney defending the Rev. Jacob Gruber when he was tried for inciting insurrection among slaves for a sermon he preached at a Methodist Episcopal Church in Maryland? Research Taney’s life between 1819 and 1857. Did you find any information that would explain the apparent change in his thinking?

Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision Making

The Rev. William H. Robinson, in Chapter XIII of From Log Cabin to the Pulpit, or, Fifteen Years in Slavery, describes schemes slaves used to hold prayer services free from white supervision. Read Chapter XIV and consider the following questions:

  • Why did slaves find the church services offered by the whites unsatisfactory?
  • What schemes did the slaves use in order to hold prayer services and other get-togethers without being caught by the patrollers?
  • Why do you think slaves decided to risk breaking rules in order to hold church services? What does this suggest about the importance of religion in the lives of enslaved peoples?

Chapter XV of Robinson’s book is devoted to the “religious fervor “of the Southern gentry and includes his version of a prayer of the slave owners:

Supremely great, and worthy of all adoration art Thou, O Lord, our heavenly Father. The cattle upon a thousand hills, and the negroes in a thousand fields are Thine. We thank Thee, Lord, for the manifold blessings with which Thou art supplying us, Thine humble and obedient servants, notwithstanding our merits deserve them all, for Thou hast said the righteous shall enjoy the good of the land. Now, Lord, we have not much time to pray, for Thou see’st how those devilish slaves are squandering away their time. Lord, revive Thy work in our midst. Grant us all a large increase of slaves for the traders this fall, that we may obtain the means, through Thy well directed providence, to rear Thee a magnificent temple in which Thou wilt love to dwell, and where Thou wilt love to pour out Thy spirit upon Thy Zion. O! Lord God, when we go into the fields among those ignorant, hard headed creatures, (over whom Thou hast made us to rule), may Thy glory so shine in our countenances that one of us shall subdue a thousand, and bind ten thousand upon the racks from the ungovernable malice of enraged negroes. Deliver us from the influence of a guilty conscience; deliver us from the abolition creeds, and from the slanderous tongues of enthusiastic politicians. Deliver us from insurrections and perplexity of minds, good Lord, deliver us. Give us and our dogs our daily bread, and our negroes their full pecks of parched corn or cotton seeds per week. Strengthen the horse and his rider, and make the limbs of the fugitive weak. Confound the cunning schemes of anti-slavery men….

From Chapter XV, From Log Cabin to the Pulpit, or, Fifteen Years in Slavery, pages 81-82

  • How did William Robinson’s tone change between Chapters XIV and XV? How does this prayer parody reflect that tone?
  • What was the point of including this fictitious prayer in the narrative? What other methods could the author have used to make his point?
  • What is the effect on the reader of the author’s decision to change tone from chapter to chapter?


Arts & Humanities

Literature: Autobiography

An autobiography is the story of a person’s life, written by that person. According to University of Delaware librarian L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin, who created a website on autobiographical writing, people are interested in life stories for several reasons:

Self works often have tremendous popular appeal for the general reader. Readers may enjoy the role of voyeur, but just as often have sympathetic responses to authentic voices found in self works. The serendipity and spontaneity of contemporary life records, inclusion of historically marginal players, confession of personal indiscretions, naïveté of youthful impressions, tedium of the ordinary, suspense of an unfolding drama, realistic suffering in face of life’s hardships, passion of romance, and the fervor of prayer -- all are engaging characteristics of life writing. These works offer subjective but universally familiar accounts of personal experience, of what it was like for an individual to live in a particular time and place. Readers are often led to consider their own lives in comparison with the personal experiences others have described. The self examined is the basis of individual growth, and what is authentically known about others is the basis of human development and understanding.

From “Self Works: Diaries, Scrapbooks, and Other Autobiographical Efforts”

Slave narratives were a unique form of autobiographical writing popular in antebellum America.  These narratives served as moving individual indictments of chattel slavery.  Abolitionists used narratives published before the Civil War to generate support for their cause.  Josiah Henson wrote one such narrative, Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life: Truth Stranger than Fiction. In his book, published in 1858 with a brief preface written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henson describes his life as a slave in Maryland, slave auctions, escape on the Underground Railroad, and his travels abroad promoting the abolition of slavery.

Read several chapters of Henson’s narrative and consider the following questions:

  • What periods of his life were covered in the chapters of the narrative you read?  What were the most notable events that occurred in those periods?
  • Why might Henson’s narrative have appealed to readers in the mid-nineteenth century? Use the quotation above to frame your response.
  • In what way might Henson’s narrative have led readers to “consider their own lives” and enhance their “human development and understanding”? How might these effects have been useful to the abolitionist movement?
  • Henson ends his narrative: “My task is done, if what I have written shall inspire a deeper interest in my race, and shall lead to corresponding activity in their behalf I shall feel amply repaid.”  What does this sentence suggest about Henson’s purpose in writing the narrative? How might that purpose influence his writing?
  • Other slave narratives can be located using “Slaves’ writing, American” in the Subject Index. Compare at least one narrative with Henson’s autobiography. Was it written for the same reasons? Do you think people responded in the same way to the two works? Why or why not?

The collection also includes a number of autobiographies that focus on the influence of Christianity on individual lives.  An Autobiography:  The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, The Colored Evangelist is typical of such autobiographies in the collection. In the work, Amanda Smith describes her travels in the United States, Western Europe, India, and Africa as an independent missionary.  What was Smith’s reason for writing this autobiography? (Hint: Check the end of the autobiography.) In what ways is this reason similar to and different from Josiah Henson’s reason for writing an autobiography? Develop a strategy for determining whether Smith’s reason is a common rationale for writing about one’s faith. Test your strategy on other works in the collection.

Literature: Autobiographical Fiction

Rather than writing the story of their life as an autobiography, some people choose to write autobiographical fiction; that is, they take events from their lives and fictionalize them. People may choose this genre because it gives them dramatic license—the freedom to change events to make them more interesting, to make people’s characters better/worse than in reality, etc. Other people may choose autobiographical fiction to protect themselves or their friends and family.

Albion Winegar Tourgee’s A Fool’s Errand, By One of the Fools, published in 1879, was a popular fictional book based on the author’s experience in North Carolina during Reconstruction.  Tourgee, a lawyer and veteran of the Union Army, settled in North Carolina after the war and worked as an advocate for newly freed slaves. Tourgee later distinguished himself when he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1897 on behalf of Homer Plessy.

Tourgee’s book was highly acclaimed and celebrated as a “New Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The story features a fictional character, Comfort Servosse, of French Canadian descent, who joined the Union army during the Civil War.  Servosse settled in the South after the war and worked with freed slaves antagonizing former Confederates.  He opposed the activities of the Ku Klux Klan and blamed some of the violence during Reconstruction on the unwillingness of the federal government to act on behalf of the Freedmen.

Read Chapters XI to XIV of A Fool’s Errand, which recount a series of events that occurred after Servosse and his wife Metta had settled in the South.

  • What is the first hint the author gives that Servosse’s efforts to help freedmen were not popular among white Southerners in the area?  Why might the author have included this piece of information in the chapter introducing the political meeting Servosse attended?
  • What was the primary topic of the political meeting? Why do you think people at the meeting wanted Servosse to speak? How did he try to avoid speaking? What finally convinced him to make a brief speech?
  • Summarize the events following the political meeting. What do these events suggest about the social and legal atmosphere in the South during Reconstruction?
  • Why do you think the author sometimes refers to the main character by his name and sometimes calls him “The Fool”? What is the significance of the term “The Fool”? (It may be helpful to read the author’s “Letters to the Publisher” on page 3.) How does the cover illustration relate to the concept of “the fool”?
  • Why do you think the author wrote the book as an autobiographical novel rather than an autobiography? (Note that the author’s name does not appear on the book.)

Literature: A Classic Collection of Essays and Sketches

W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk is a classic work in American literature. Du Bois assessed the progress of blacks in America and described obstacles that had impeded progress. In saying that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line,” Du Bois predicted that issues around race would persist far beyond 1903, when his book was published. W.E.B. Du Bois argued against Booker T. Washington’s credo of humility and accommodation, instead making the case for the moral responsibility of both whites and blacks in creating a society in which African Americans could flourish. While he wrote in the formal style of the day, moral indignation lay below the surface of his words.

The Souls of Black Folk was subtitled Essays and Sketches. What is the difference between an essay and a sketch? Use a dictionary or another source to develop definitions of these two terms. Then read Chapters III (“Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others”) and IV (“Of the Meaning of Progress”) of The Souls of Black Folk.

  • Which chapter would you call an essay? Which a sketch? Describe how you used the structure and writing styles of the two chapters to distinguish between an essay and a sketch.
  • What was Du Bois’ primary point in each chapter? How did he use different structures and styles to present and support those points?
  • What evidence can you find of Du Bois’ underlying indignation? How is that indignation expressed differently in the two chapters?
  • Find at least one other chapter that you think is an essay and one that you think is a sketch. By studying these chapters, can you determine why Du Bois addressed some topics/problems through essays and others through sketches? Think of several contemporary problems that you might want to write about. Which would be best addressed through an essay? A sketch?

Music: African American Spirituals

“Of the Sorrow Songs,” Chapter XIV of W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, is devoted to Negro Spirituals. In 1903 Du Bois wrote

Little of beauty has America given the world save the rude grandeur God himself stamped on her bosom; the human spirit in this new world has expressed itself in vigor and ingenuity rather than in beauty. And so by fateful chance the Negro folk-song--rhythmic cry of the slave--stands to-day not simply as the sole American music, but as the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side of the seas. It has been neglected, it has been, and is half despised, and above all it has been persistently mistaken and misunderstood; but notwithstanding, it still remains as the singular spiritual heritage of the nation and the greatest gift of the Negro people.

From The Souls of Black Folks, page 251

  • Why did Du Bois hold African American folk songs in high regard?
  • Why do you think he believed that these “sorrow songs” were “half despised” and misunderstood?

In the introduction to the book, Slave Songs of the United States, William Allen writes that he wanted to preserve typical slave songs before they were lost with the passing of elders.  The editor provides a thorough discussion of the songs included in the collection and directions for singing the songs.  The book includes lyrics and musical scores for 136 spirituals and secular songs from ten Southern states.  Funeral songs and songs in lament of a soldier’s death are also included.  The words and music to fifty “Cabin and Plantation Songs” often sung by students at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, Hampton, Virginia, are included in the appendix to Hampton and Its Students. The school’s music director arranged the songs for inclusion in the book.

Examine the lyrics of several spirituals.  What were the messages conveyed?  Can you make connections between these lyrics and what you have learned about the role of religion in the African American community?  If you can read music, sing some of the songs or play them on a keyboard. How do the melodies and harmonies help convey the meaning of the lyrics?

Oratory: The Art of the Sermon

The sermon, a religious speech delivered at a church service, is a special form of oratory. However, it is not a singular form—sermon styles vary across denominations, time periods, and geographical regions. Even within a particular religious tradition, views on what makes an effective sermon may vary. For example, within the Southern black community in the late nineteenth century, preferred styles of preaching were debated, as seen in this quotation from Reverend Alfred Lee Ridgel’s book Africa and African Methodism:

We often hear persons who profess Christianity criticizing ministers of the gospel who put life and enthusiasm in their sermons. “Oh,” they say, “we want more classical love, we want more theory, we want more science and history.” I often think such persons need more of the grace of God. Political speakers, congressmen and legislators pour out their eloquence with such force, such power that great audiences are moved to uproarous applause; men stand to their feet, women dash their handkerchiefs to the air, and even children join the universal ecstasy, but when ministers of the gospel dare show the emotion of the soul while discussing the most vital, the most important subject that ever engaged the human mind, we frequently hear a number of classical “fops,” educational dudes expressing disgust and describing the scene as a “monkey show.” Such soulless mortals are to be pitied.

From Africa and African Methodism, page 74

  • What qualities did Reverend Ridgel feel made a good sermon? What arguments did he make for this type of sermon?
  • What arguments might the “educational dudes” whom Ridgel pitied have made for another kind of sermon?
  • Read one of the sermons by Elder Joseph Baysmore. How do you think Reverend Ridgel would have reacted to Elder Baysmore’s sermon?

Like those of Elder Baysmore, sermons often explicate a passage from a religious text, such as the Bible. Through this method, the person delivering the sermon helps the listeners not only to understand the meaning of the text but also to derive a “life lesson” from it. This same technique can be used in nonreligious speeches. Think of a text that you think people could learn from if they understood it better, such as the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, or another document or speech. Select a passage from the text that you find especially meaningful. Write a brief speech explaining the meaning of the passage and helping your listeners derive a lesson from the text.

Architecture: African American Churches, 1780-1925

Like other churches, the actual buildings in which African Americans worshiped following the Civil War varied from extremely simple structures to impressive edifices. Many of the churches shared architectural features with other American Christian churches of the time. Use the Browse Images by Subject feature to locate images of at least five churches. What, if anything, do these churches have in common? How are they different? Look at the overall shape of the building, architectural features such as towers or spires, building materials, size of the buildings, and any other features you can discern in the pictures.

Use other sources to find photographs of other American churches in the years following the Civil War. Again, look for similarities and differences. What factors might account for the differences that you note? What features are common to many of the churches you studied? What religious significance might these features have? Use the list of common features to write a brief description of American church architecture in the late 19th century. Use library or Internet sources to determine if your description is accurate.